Guam’s American Association of University Women held its first forum for candidates since the 1980s. AAUW promotes equal rights and opportunity and furthermore, the group felt it was important to understand the motives and plans of the candidates. “AAUW has several key issues that we support on a national level and this was something our organization has done in the past, back in the ‘80s,” said Dr. Laura Biggs, president of AAUW Guam.
“One of our older members, Claudia Taitano was really instrumental in pushing this initiative forward for the organization. It was really a team effort among all our officers to get this going and it’s great having an effective group of ladies that are focused on the same cause. We resurrected our old survey and unfortunately some of the same questions from 30 or 40 years ago are still being asked today. So it shows that things haven’t changed that much.”
Legislative candidate Lasia Casil speaks to the group
The candidates who attended were Ken Joe Ada, Jermaine Alerta, Tina Muna Barnes, Lasia Casil, Jack Hattig III, Régine Biscoe Lee, Kelly Marsh, James Moylan, Sabina Perez, Jose San Agustin, Ben Servino, Amanda Shelton, and Telo Taitague. Each candidate was given about a minute to discuss their views on AAUW issues.
Since AAUW is a group that promotes gender equality, one of the major topics brought up was the candidates’ stance on LGBT issues. “If there’s any chance that we can help an individual come forth and be who they want to be, we should all support that, just as I’ve supported my (LGBT) daughter,” said Taitague, a former Republican senator.
Senator Regine Biscoe Lee, an incumbent legislator, who has a brother who is LGBT, also took a personal stance on the issue of LGBT. “We should all be working extremely hard to ensure equal protection and equal rights for every single member of our community regardless of your race, your creed, your gender, or who you choose to love,” said Lee.
Kelly Taitano, a Democrat seeking office for the first time, has a more complex view. “I support the idea of self-identification,” said Taitano. “Sometimes physically, mentally, and spiritually, it’s the case [that one can’t choose] the binary options offered. There are areas out there that are starting to look into intersex identification. I think we need to understand and promote self-identification and expand beyond that.”
Another vital topic discussed was the government funding for Child Protective Services and social work. “The focal point of my platform is better financial management of our government’s resources,” said Jermaine Alerta, who worked for the legislature for 15 years. “We have almost a billion-dollar budget in our government of Guam. Ten years ago, it was $500 million, we’re spending double today and we have the same issues. It’s my firm belief that we’re not spending the money in the right places.” If elected, Alerta hopes to cut money in the government, such as “cutting deputy directors, cutting from the legislature’s budget and cutting from the budget of Adelup.”
Senator Lee, who’s a daughter of a social worker, understands how lack of funding can take its tole upon the community. “CPS is overrun and overwhelmed and overworked,” said Lee. “We’re relying on 100 percent federal funding to run CPS. Zero of our local appropriation goes to CPS. I’ve introduced two bills in my first term, Bill 119-34 (COR) and Bill 310-34 (LS), to address this issue. Just because we have physical constraints in our government, doesn’t give us a pass to ignore this growing tide of abuse for our children.”
James Moylan looks to increase the budget by better regulating gaming fees. “Part of my platform is increasing gaming fees,” said Moylan. “Right now it is at 4 percent. I think it should be raised to 10 percent. And mandate tracking on these gaming devices that are not reported properly and increasing the penalties as well. Currently the money goes to GMH and the Urgent Care facilities. I think that adding this increase in fees we can also include CPS.”
Newcomer Jack Hattig believes that the government and the island will be better if more women were in office. “The first thing you can do, is you see every one of these women (candidates) up here? Vote for each and every one of these women in this panel and vote for a woman for governor, so we can finally pay some attention,” said Hattig. “It is sad we haven’t paid any attention, we have allowed problems to fester. Look at these advocates and talk to them. They are serious about this and so am I.”
Candidate Ben Servino, felt that the panel was a success and was glad to participate in the discussions. “AAUW is a very important organization that focuses and advocates on the equal rights of women on Guam. The members are educated professionals that are concerned about the quality of life and the empowerment of women on Guam,” said Servino. “I believe that the event was successful and members of the AAUW achieved their goal of getting to know more about each senatorial candidate and what their position or plans are to help address a number of important issues impacting on women here on Guam.”
AAUW feels that the forum was effective in gauging the candidates’ views and proposals. “This event was able to highlight the issues relevant to AAUW and really, what are people are going to vote for,” said Biggs. “If I’m going to vote you into the Legislature, are you going to support things that I don’t believe in. What happens is, that these 20 or so people in the audience will all go home and tell their friends and families what they learned from the candidates. It’s about spreading the word and allowing people to make more informed decisions based on what these people will do on the ground.”
Despite being an organization to uplift women, membership is also open to men. Also this December, the AAUW hopes to fundraise for scholarships for Guam students.